There are rallies, and then there are rallies. The 2007 BABE Rally - short for Big Apple to Big Easy - is in that dubious second camp, the first being actual events of driving skill. BABE is a crap-car rally, an exercise in ridiculousness involving cars with temporarily commuted death sentences. The requirements: Be in the parking lot of the drab Staten Island Hotel at the appointed hour with a car that cost less than $250, armed with registration and insurance. And then attempt to schlep your chosen chariot to New Orleans under its own power.
We can thank a group of lunatic Brits for dragging this rolling circus across the Atlantic last year. The event includes challenges (license-plate scavenger hunts, absurd photo contests, costume competitions) for those who take such things far too seriously, but the reality is sad, dear readers. This is a dumbass event for screw-offs, without even a charity recipient at the end of the oil-soaked road.
Naturally, we signed up, thanks to associate editor Sam Smith and senior online editor Jason Cammisa, the two most serious drama queens at AUTOMOBILE MAGAZINE. The nail-chewing Jew from Louisville meets the Italian on Xanax from Brooklyn. They ramped up for this insanity for two months, their auras merging and growing geometrically until they had almost spun themselves into pools of butter. They could not be allowed to sail off into the unknown, driving the junker 1983 Cadillac stretch limo they had bought and were now obsessing over, without a minder carrying bail money. I agreed to fly in with Elvis costumes if they agreed to deliver the hand-painted white limo with the spray-painted gold underbite and tucked-red-velvet upholstery to Staten Island. Our fate was sealed. The 1983 Ann Arbor High School Prom Team was on its way to New York. -Jean Jennings
Staten Island Hotel
I arrive at our hotel by taxi, exiting between a row of hand-painted junkers and a line of incoming soldiers in camouflage. The Conservative Party of Staten Island is meeting in the Harbor Room off the lobby, says the sign. I'm sure this is a joke and that this must be the room where all the BABE loonies will be registering and drinking. It is not a joke. Guys in polyester with bad hair are in there, meeting. I go outside.
"Are you with the conservatives or the rally?" asks a Brit out in the parking lot. He's puffing on a hookah and standing next to an Oldsmobile Aurora that's missing its roof.
"I'm a conservative with the rally," I reply.
"Brush or roller?" someone mingling in the crowd asks a heavily tattooed woman leaning against a pink convertible covered with plastic pigs.
"Oil or latex?"
Somewhere between Ann Arbor and Staten Island, one of our trailer's ramps went missing. We are left to get the limo off the trailer with whatever we can scrounge up in the aisles of the local Home Depot. "You'll be fine," Jean yells, as I back it out of the straps. "Go faster," Jason yells, as the two-by-eight plank snaps and the bottle jack holding it shoots sideways under the limo's weight. There's a giant WHUMP, I hear the rear doors groan, and the limo is suddenly sitting on the pavement, the plank and the jack a good ten feet away. The Caddy's fan belt starts to squeal. -Sam Smith
Jason scores a pair of pink, wide-lapel tuxedos for the 1983 Ann Arbor High School Prom Team from a junk store en route. Inexplicably, he has also brought along a wig for himself. I have an entire suitcase stuffed by Monica Ladd from Fantasy Attic in Ann Arbor with my prom outfit and full Elvis regalia for us all. We try on everything, decide to wear the prom outfits at the start and end of the rally, and get them ready. Meanwhile, our team photographer, Regis Lefebure, has set up his artist nephew Vincent Szarek in the parking lot with a can of pink paint. He spends the night getting wasted and painting "Off Like a Prom Dress" on the limo's trunk. -JJ
Staten Island, New York, to Harrisonburg, Virginia
We roll through the parking lot to the starting line, Jean on the roof in her tutu and Jason hanging out the sunroof in that Weird-Al-meets-underarm-hair wig of his, and the crowd goes wild. Two potbellied, shirtless Brits - the ones with the roofless Olds Aurora - have been flying the Union Jack from their trunk since dawn. A van covered with rubber duckies is playing something that sounds like porn music through the giant speaker mounted on its roof. It's a freak show. A huge, smelly, oil-burning freak show. Someone shoots off a confetti gun. Glorious. -SS
We wouldn't have gotten more attention if the Cadillac - or Jean herself - were on fire. Crap cars are scattered all over, so it takes a true rat to get this twisted crowd's attention. Face it: a $250 car is one thing. A $250 stretch limo is another story entirely. -Jason Cammisa
We know this car is a total junker. Anything can happen. But I am the last of the great optimists. Plus, both Sam and Jason are mechanically inclined. Plus, I have the corporate credit card. I say a little prayer: if it's gonna break, please break today. As it turns out, it breaks and breaks and breaks and, well, I'm getting ahead of myself. Our prom car needs help in exactly thirty-four miles. The duct-taped vinyl roof is already getting puffy, which is kind of cute, and the vents are blasting heat. Bad enough we have no A/C as we steam south. -JJ
Hot? So much heat is pouring out of the dashboard that the rubber on the brake pedal is melting. My foot is sticking to it. The scavenger-hunt challenges for the rally are superfluous - the real challenge will be hauling this heap to the Big Easy under its own power. We haven't even made it out of Staten Island before the engine is starving for fuel. Any more than the weight of my big toe on the accelerator pedal causes the big V-8 to shudder, cough, and perform a magnificent, flaming backfire through the intake as it stalls. An air filter might have muffled the explosions, but we threw it out because it was so dirty. And besides, the backfires are mostly drowned out by the squealing fan belt. -JC